Music and the City: Sonic Landscapes

The intersection of music and the city is a long-standing phenomenon. Historical music hubs, well-loved record stores and much revered music venues all signify well the presence of music production and performance in the city. But how can this intersection be framed or understood with more city specificity?

Enter New American Noise– a film series collaboration between Nokia Music and the Sundance Channel. The film series considers the rise of distinct sounds and music styles around the United States- exploring how urban milieus can inform and inspire the sounds of citizens. From experimental indie in Portland, to introverted electro in L.A. to bounce beats in New Orleans, the series explores a range of sonic landscapes- all through the lens of the city. While many cities take claim or historically associate themselves with particular sounds or music scenes, attention is rarely given to those particularities of each city inform the sounds echoing through its streets. How do urban features like density, public transport networks, the presence (or indeed absence of) of quality public spaces inform and inspire particular sounds and styles? How, for instance, does the experience of the subway- venturing underground, waiting in the station, traveling along the tracks- inform rap in New York? And how does the experience of travel in L.A.- of its sprawling highways, open spaces and grinding traffic jams- inform the electronic music scene taking hold in the city? While the films below do not seek to explicitly answer these questions, the choice of subject matter, the cinematic framing and the ascribing of certain styles to specific urban landscapes all support a wider inquiry about music in the city.

In the increasingly digitised space of music production and distribution it seems possible for music styles and scenes to uproot themselves from specific urban contexts. But this is to overlook the inevitable role that urban landscapes and soundscapes have to play in the inspiration and motivation for music creation from the outset. Housing patterns, weather patterns, transport patterns- these features all coalesce to create the distinct urban landscape of each city, which in turn inform a variety of cultural endeavours. And let us not forget perhaps the city’s most crucial role for musical: as a stage.

While music production and distribution may shift into digitised spaces, the performative aspect and live experience of music cannot be likewise digitised. The city- whether in the form of the street corner, the public park or the concert hall- will always provide a space for musicians to meet, for audiences to come together and for music to be presented in its most vivid forms.

Click on each of the city icons below to view the 6 films.



New OrleansAtlantadetroit

All images taken from the New American Noise series.

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